The ebb and flow of Constitutional Reform

As a lay person, the writer thinks that a country’s constitution should, for the most part, reflect social and cultural values with due consideration to preserving minority sub-cultures.

Colonial constitutional doctrine sought to preserve the culture of the conquering nation, introducing and inculcating unpalatable “foreign norms” as culturally superior; the psychological flogging that followed still corrupts minds to thinking that that which is foreign is better.

Many of the intelligencier of the colonial ilk  – who the writer thinks should be free thinkers – still tenaciously worship by colonial constitutional indoctrination, akin to “forsaking all other,” holding on to Christianity as the one and only path to the kingdom.

The writer holds to the view that the road is narrow, but the paths are many!

The rejection of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in some quarters, is in line with that colonial mode, which seemed easier to adapt to (ramroded?) under manifest and intense gum-boat diplomacy, than to dispense with as free thinking people, still over-burdened by the spell of the colonial witch.

However, as wings spread to continents near and far, the inevitable cultural evolution – through cultural contamination and integration – opens new horizons of thought and in time new youthful “true” free thinkers ferment change.

Over decades new social order emerges and the relevancy of the age old constitution is questioned and reconsidered. Is it in sync with the new social order? As a living document has it evolved?

Changes run the gamut from subtle to radical. The South African Constitution was ushered by a violent and radical departure from what was hypocritically considered the “norm” – apartheid – white supremacy in all phases of life.

The socio-political landscape was overturned and so followed the new
constitution “…approved by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996 and took effect on 4 February 1997. It is widely regarded as the most progressive constitution in the world, with a Bill of Rights second to none.”

South African ambassador to the US (2003-2007) Barbara Masekela observed, “…We work by consensus. And we prefer long-term solutions to quick, expedient fixes. But we are still revolutionaries: we want to hand succeeding generations a truly better world.”

In the U.S., constitutional reform has taken the more gradual approach. Of the thirty-three amendments that have been adopted by the United States since the Constitution became the “Supreme Law” on March 4, 1789, only twenty-seven of these, in the past 200 years, have been ratified and have become part of the Constitution.

The first ten amendments adopted and ratified simultaneously, known collectively as the “Bill of Rights,” were submitted for ratification on September 25, 1789, but not ratified until December 15, 1791 – a period of 2 years, 2 months, 20 days.  In 1865 the 13th Amendment proscribed the practice of slavery; the 15th in 1870, conferred the right to vote upon all citizens regardless of race paving the way for the more comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964, under Title 42, Chapter 21 of the United States Code – the most significant civil rights legislation since reconstruction.

The 18th Amendment passed in1919 banning the making and selling of alcohol became impossible to enforce because: (1) legislative fiat could not quench the thirst for drinking alcohol and, (2) the American people felt that making laws about their private habits infringed upon their rights – as a result, in 1933 the 21st Amendment was adopted
repealing the 18th Amendment.

The ebb and flow of societal artists paint the colours and images of constitutional reform – at least in what is claimed to be democracies.

And like the patient brushes and unique strokes of Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and other great works that transcend time, the people’s constitutional brush must be patient in quest for that elusive prodigy, the likes of the South African Constitution.

Kit Stonewalling

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